My love affair with all things espionage started early– armed with a library’s worth of knowledge about my favorite female superspies like Carmen Sandiego, Nancy Drew, and Harriet the Spy, I was convinced that I was destined to become the world’s next great covert operative. As I grew older and realized that I may not have the talents needed to pull off a career of cloak-and-dagger adventures, I contented myself with reading about the exploits of my favorite spies and gumshoes. If, like me, you can always find room in your reading list for the fiendishly-clever maneuvers of real and fictional secret agents, check out this list of NPL spy-related reads:
Josephine Baker is known as one of the most famous female entertainers of the twentieth century, renowned for her talent, beauty, and Civil Rights activism. Less well-known, however, is her spying work for the French Resistance during World War II. Veteran journalist Damien Lewis follows Baker’s turn towards espionage on behalf of the Allies and its impact on the French war effort in a compelling read that deepens our understanding of the Jazz Age superstar.
Graham Greene’s beloved espionage thriller/satire, Our Man in Havana follows James Wormold, an unsuccessful British vacuum-cleaner salesman who is recruited into MI6 and instructed to report back to London on the Fulgencio Batista regime. Unable to gather any legitimate intel, Wormold begins to completely fabricate reports, only to later find that these sham reports are becoming true.
The first book in an ongoing series, Slow Horses follows a band of MI5 agents whose mistakes have relegated them to an assignment at Slough House, a career-ending designation meant to allow unsuccessful operatives to fade into obscurity, disparaged as “slow horses.” But when a seemingly innocuous transcription task seems to point to a larger conspiracy, the Slough House team band together to uncover these mysteries– and discover that each “slow horse” may have their own reasons for pursuing the truth. Read this one if you love long-running mystery book series or want to brush up on the source material before watching the critically-acclaimed AppleTV+ adaptation.
Perfect for fans of Cold War-era espionage tales, The Spy and the Traitor follows the intertwined stories of two double-agents: Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB colonel who secretly supplied intel to MI6, and Aldrich Ames– the CIA officer tasked with identifying Britain’s top-level Russian source– who, unbeknownst to the Americans, was actually a Soviet mole himself.